Social Value Matters

March 2023 | by Jael Williams

Opening for Geothermal Jubilee Pool - an example of how social value matters

Social Value - do you know the difference you are making to people, place and planet?

In a world that is dominated by accountability measures and economic value and costs, planning for and articulating your social value often comes a poor second. But being able to talk about the difference you make to people, prosperity and planet, is now more crucial than ever. It’s not just about proving what you do, it’s also about improving what you do and changing lives.

How often have you been asked what difference you make, and then been asked to show the evidence of that? And has that been more focused on what you do and for how many, i.e. numbers and money, than on the difference you make to people’s lives?

Yes, accountability is important, especially when you are receiving public funding. All the more so since the introduction of changes to the Social Value act which now requires people who commission public services to think about how they can also secure wider social, economic and environmental benefits and to explicitly evaluate social value when awarding most major contracts.

But understanding the difference you make, the processes and approaches that led to change and the critical success and failure factors, will ultimately allow you to build long term sustainability.

We all know that community Businesses can make a huge difference to local communities, places and to individuals.

In the 2022 Community Business Market Report:

  • 98% of community businesses said they increase community cohesion
  • 97% said they foster community pride and empowerment
  • 97% said they improve health and wellbeing and reduce social isolation
  • 87% said they increase employability
  • 72% said that they improve their local environment

But that often that value is not captured, evidenced or translated into compelling stories of change. Following the results of the Community Business Market Survey, the 2022 Renaisi report for Power to Change (Understanding impact for Community Businesses, Renaisi, for Power to Change 2022), concluded that whilst many community businesses know and want to tell the story of the difference they make, they lack the skills and capacity to use a robust evidence base to measure their social impact, articulate it, and adapt as a result.

“We want to tell more stories, perhaps support community journalism and have creative communications.”
Disability Lambeth

We carried out a piece of research for Power to Change from Nov 2022 to January 2023 designed to delve deeper into this issue. Our findings point to a number of challenges.

But most pressing were the following barriers….

“You need time & energy to gather qualitative data. Number crunching is easy.”
St. George’s Community Trust

“Not all of our front-line providers do it [data collection], due to the skills of people delivering a service, it’s just not their thing, and this is more prevalent than people think. For us, in youth delivery it’s a chore. The types of people delivering community service aren’t necessarily a natural fit for doing that measurement.”
Crystal Palace Community Trust

“We have mostly functional staff, so only one person looking at impact measurement. She reads lots but doesn’t feel confident. She’s been on lots of courses but doesn’t feel like she can put it into practice.”
Wickham Community Centre

“Yes…” we hear you say. “We just don’t have the time to do it properly!”

We think that robust evidence-based practice doesn’t have to be complicated or burdensome and can even be fun…honest!

There are six stages to measuring and managing your social value. We embed these stages into all the work we do to support the organisations we work with:

The six stages to measuring and managing your social value matters

Planning together and building simple evaluation methods into everyday practice and process, avoids boring surveys for community participants and customers who are already suffering from consultation fatigue. You can even get creative with your tools, invigorating your practice and giving local people more of a voice. For example, tools like a graffiti wall can be creative and offer a talking point as well as giving you useful data.

We found that some community businesses are using tried and tested tools and methods to gather evidence for example outcomes stars, surveys and creating Theories of Change.

You may be thinking so what…. what are the next steps and how are we going to address some of these challenges?

We identified a number of recommendations for the wider funding and community business sector to consider. These are wide ranging in commitment, scale and the investment required, and will require a partnership approach.

  1. No action – Whilst this is the least costly, there are significant implications for the sector to taking no action and skills, and capacity in the sector are unlikely to increase without further investment.
  2. Ringfenced funding for external evaluation support – A lack of funding and capacity was one of the main barriers to measuring impact for community businesses. And consequently, the most obvious solution is to have more funding available. Ringfencing 10% of individual grant funding for ‘impact measurement’ could be one way forward.
  3. A marketing and communications campaign – There is scope for funders to campaign more explicitly for the benefits of ‘good impact management and measurement’. This could be delivered through a focused marketing and communications campaign with case studies produced for longer term use online.
  4. A clear and accessible bank of existing resources – The development of a self-assessment tool and decision tree for community businesses to identify where they struggle in the evaluation cycle and which resource would best support them would be beneficial.
  5. Co-created new resource/s – There are already existing resources that could be adapted including for example the MB associates Culture Cubed guidance and LIFE APP that uses researched and validated questions linked to national data sets for comparison. Or a new toolkit could be developed.

We have already shared some of our research with the National Association of Social Prescribing, who have found similar challenges within the Social Prescribing sector and are compiling a list of tools and methods for community-based evaluation. The aim is to develop practice, innovate and avoid duplication of effort.

If you’d like to join the discussion, comment on, or contribute to our work, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you…

Jael Williams
Development Director, MB Associates

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